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Pet food usually comes in the form of pellets and kibbles that are extruded or baked from dry compound feed. Dry pet foods contain grains and cereals, meat meal and fat, vegetables and proteins and functional ingredients. Wet pet food has similar dry ingredients to dry pet food, but is usually produced in the form of single-serve tin cans or pouches filled with high moisture level. Meat pieces and gravy or jelly are commonly seen in wet pet food mixed with vitamins and minerals.
Pet food making process
Following the increasing demand for nutrition and regulatory compliance, pet food formulation needs to take factors such as fat tissue content, protein quality, the moisture level of raw materials into consideration. Pet foods oftentimes are made from dry ingredients such as feed grain and soybean meal, byproducts of meat and seafood, and liquid ingredients such as water and meat broth. Also, coatings and coloring and flavoring agents are needed in pet food formulas to appeal to different pet groups.
The broad range of available ingredients for pet food production requires precise weighing and dosing in the handling of raw materials. Another crucial step in processing pet food ingredients is grinding and mixing, ensuring the required particle size and consistency of the mixture. Before going into extrusion, the grinded and mixed ingredients need to be (pre-) conditioned. The addition of moisture and fat with pre-heating conditions makes sure that the mixture to be extruded reach the desired nutritional quality, bulk density and consistency. Finally, extruded and pelleted pet foods proceed to the coating and cooling section of the entire production before packaging.
For canned pet food, the production process centers around the handling of meat and flesh products from defrosting and rendering to grinding, cooking and mixing with other ingredients such as vitamins, minerals and preservatives. After packaging and sealing in cans (and labeled), wet pet food needs to go through a crucial step, sterilization.
Extruded or baked pet food?
For producing dry pet foods, there are two main cooking methods: extrusion (the most common) and baking. Nowadays about 95% of pet foods is made by extrusion.
In the extrusion process, a mixture of wet and dry ingredients called dough enters the expander which cooks the doughy mixture at high pressure and high temperature. Then, the dough is forced through the dies that create ribbons of the desired shapes that are cut with a rotary cutter afterwards. Instead, when baked, the dough is cut by rotary moulders into the desired shapes and sizes. Then, the final moulded products are placed into the oven and baked.
Weighing and dosing of pet food
Dosing and weighing process – from the intake of raw material to the distribution of finished product – is the key factor to ensure the balanced mixture of ingredients based on what animal needs.
To provide zero contamination and avoid human error, for example KSE supplies fully automatic dosing and weighing systems, thus eliminating hand dosing. Plus, for a quick and a zero-contamination dosing , KSE supplies a new type of technology called “dosingtainers”, which reduces the number of dosing steps. If bulk ingredients stay for too long in a silo, they can get spoilt. Therefore, using these dosing containers instead of traditional silos saves time because ingredients can also be dosed inside them.
Packaging and sterilization of pet food
The basic difference between wet and dry pet food is the water content, which affects the shelf life of the product – 3-5 years for wet pet food and 10-12 months for dry pet food. The most common forms of dry pet food include kibbles, biscuits and snacks, which after processing are transferred to bags, boxes or pouches to pack the right amount of weight.
Instead, ingredients in wet pet food are measured and mixed together and put into cans, trays or pouches. The selected container is sealed and cooked at certain temperatures. To guarantee the microbiological safety of the food, sterilization is a critical part of wet pet food manufacturing process. Sterilization takes place in a retort where steam is pumped under high pressure.